Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Innovation or ideation?

One of the problems with encouraging innovation is that people learn to love the hammer so much that in addition to using it on nails, they start using it on screws, kitchen appliances, the air... Heck, sometimes they use it on each other. It's crazy!

Now I love me a bit of wild fun as much as the next guy. And in this day and age, who is hurt by a little reckless hammer swinging amongst friends?

Well I am my friends. I am. You see, innovation is serious business. It's not for the faint of heart, the long of tooth or... that other guy.

Innovation is appropriate for every area within business or life, and every person can and should innovate, but not all at the same time. Not every problem needs innovation. So I'd like to propose an easy way of thinking about when you really need innovation and when you need... that other thing.

Ask yourself: is the answer to your problem or challenge already to be found somewhere in the minds of your team members? Is your problem one that can be handled through the application of domain expertise? In other words, do your people already have the answer but simply lack an opportunity to come together, talk about the issue, get their thoughts out and discuss them? If so, you need ideation, not innovation. You need to bring your team together for some sort of ideation session so they can unload what they've got and you can sort it out and plan your path forward.

But, if the nature of your problem or challenge is such that it requires a genuinely novel answer and cannot be solved by getting experts to do their expert thing, then you need innovation. This requires more artfully crafted exercises to stimulate your team members to think differently. It requires time. And it requires the right space.

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